Slow Food Heroes: ReFoodGees and solidarity without borders

10 Mar 2022

Since 2018, the association ReFoodGees has been collecting unsold food and distributing it for free in the Alberone and Esquilino district markets, in Rome. During the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, the volunteers, including some refugees and asylum seekers, did not stop organizing home deliveries and the food bank at the market, helping the people throughout the city who needed it the most. 

Born at the end of 2018, from the project Roma Salvacibo, the association ReFoodgees, so called because it also includes refugees and asylum seekers among its volunteers, runs a wide and consolidated activity, able not only to redistribute a ton of food every Saturday for free in the district markets of Alberone and Esquilino in Rome, but also to act as a trait d’union between many people and social projects. Starting with the distribution of unsold fruit and vegetables, over time, the Nuovo Mercato Esquilino has added the collection of baked goods, books, toys and clothes for children and the realization of artistic, play and recreational activities. Thanks to the project, the market has thus become a moment of socialization, a place for sharing, meeting and playing.

During the pandemic, however, everything became more complicated, but the volunteers and the project never stopped.

“The course of the activities – Viola De Andrade Piroli, president of the association, explained to us – was inevitably affected by the pandemic. Everything started from a lunch against food waste that we had to organize in April 2020 in Piazza Vittorio as part of the initiative Open Arcades and Slow Food Rome and several other realities that operate in the Esquilino area. When the lockdown started of course the lunch turned out to be impossible, but with the funds collected for the organization we decided to invest them for the less fortunate. Some local realities made a census of families in need and we organized ourselves for the collection and delivery of food. So we never stopped, not even when we were in the red zone and so, thanks to the Portici Aperti network, we helped over 240 families. They were surreal Saturday deliveries: used to seeing the chaos of Saturday in Rome, we were traveling in a ghost town, there was no one there.”


Credits: Giorgia Spigarelli

Since June 2020, when the lockdown loosened, the association resumed organizing the stall at the market, with all the security devices.

“The people who approached our stall – explains Viola – were and are extremely heterogeneous. They reflect both the multi-ethnic Esquilino district where we work and the market itself, which sells fruit, vegetables, spices and many other things that can only be found here. It’s difficult to make precise percentages, there are North Africans, many from sub-Saharan Africa, which by the way is where many of our volunteers come from, Central and South Americans, Asians and certainly Italians as well. Also in terms of age, the public is decidedly vast and diverse. We have not only helped the people of our neighborhood: together with the Associazione Genitori Scuola Di Donato (Di Donato School Parents Association), which promotes cultural, sports and artistic activities for children inside and outside the school, we have also managed to help the Quattro Stelle occupation where over 400 people, many of whom are children, live in difficulty. It was a hotel-congress center. Then the first foreigners came in, and from 2012 to today it is a peaceful multicultural enclave. Some of us on Saturdays, along with Di Donato volunteers, would make deliveries there, while others would take care of the neighborhood or the stall at the market.” 

Between 2020 and 2021, around 36,000 kilos of fruit, vegetables, bread… and lots of love were recovered and distributed.

“Today – Viola concludes – we are about thirty people operating, working between two gazebos, divided between a front line where we serve the fruits and vegetables and the display part, where people see what’s there and ask for what they need. The collaboration with Portici Aperti has come to an end – even though they continue to support about ten cases in difficulty – while we have started to give support not only on the food part, but also for the bureaucratic practices that migrants or more disadvantaged people have to face and cannot solve. We try to network with activities in the area that deal with other aspects related to the support of people in socio-economic difficulty, such as Casa Dei Diritti Sociali or Pianoterra Onlus. One of these is that of newborns. Before, we used to do a lot of activities with children, but due to Covid, a lot less of them started to come, so we dedicated ourselves to other groups. Thanks to the banquet, which compared to a closed office or a counter is more accessible, we have been able to refer several women in difficulty to specific realities that have helped them and with which a nice synergy has been created. The market is still the heart of our activity: historically a crossroads of people, stories and business, it is the ideal place to promote meetings, relationships and exchange of goods, ideas and experiences”.

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